EducationThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Peekskill Celebrates Free Arts Program for Students in Community

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Wilfredo Morel, co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit Arts 10566, speaks to some of the local officials and program supporters last Thursday at the Peekskill Youth Bureau. He thanked them for helping the organization of reaching its goal of securing $100,000 in funding to continue serving about 500 students.

There has long been a demand for afterschool activities in Peekskill, particularly in the arts, and that demand is as great as ever.

Wilfredo Morel co-founded Arts 10566 nearly 11 years ago, a nonprofit organization that brings a variety of free music, art and dance classes to the city’s children who are between the ages of six and 18.

Morel, its CEO who started the program with about 30 students in 2013, has helped to expand the opportunities. Arts 10566 now attracts about 500 children who are participating in classes.

He makes sure that the families, many of whom are low- or middle-income, can see their children be enriched by having an opportunity to participate in the arts, but without it costing anything.

“When it comes to a program like this, unless you have the tools, the program cannot provide,” said Morel, who runs a health center in Peekskill. “So the musical instruments are provided. So the necessary tools are given to the children so that the parents do not have to think about how am I going to buy that.”

But to offer classes in violin, mural design, music production, tap dancing, visual art and more, mostly run out of the Peekskill Youth Bureau on Main Street, Morel knows that it takes money.

Last Thursday, local officials joined Morel and Program Coordinator Tamarah Bridgewater to recognize those in the community who have recently donated $100,000 so Arts 10566 can continue to operate and offer the wide range of classes. It took Morel less than a month to reach that goal, he said.

State Sen. Peter Harckham provided $50,000 in state money, while WIN Waste Innovations, the Lanza Family Foundation and White Plains Linen provided the remaining funds that Arts 10566 needed.

Bridgewater said the organization provides opportunities that would likely be out of reach for many of the youngsters.

“I think that because most school districts are lacking in the creative arts kind of workshops that Arts 10566 supports on the outside, and we partner with the (Peekskill City School) district so we help people in the school as well, it helps develop the kids fantastically, and it’s just a certain way to express themselves.”

Morel and Bridgewater have been able to attract a variety of local artists to give their time to help the children. Leading the violin classes is Susan Feldman, a retired Hendrick Hudson School District music teacher who provides weekly instruction to three separate classes during the week. Each class has one one-hour lesson each week.

It’s not only that the students learn an instrument, in some cases before they would do so in school in fourth grade, but the personal growth is equally beneficial, she said.

“We grow to know each other and they become confident in what they’re doing,” Feldman said. “They improve study skills, coping skills, learning skills, it helps them become part of a group, and it also helps them to do their own thing and feel good about it.”

For Dr. David Mauricio, Peekskill’s superintendent of schools, and Youth Bureau Director Tuesday McDonald, Arts 10566 is an example of how different components of a community collaborate to provide something special.

“We work together in Peekskill,” McDonald said. “It’s not something that we do to impress anybody. It’s in our DNA. So thank you for the opportunity for our youth to come together and for all the things that you offer.”

A local student, Scott Murray, 17, praised the program.

“The goal of the community is to stand together and help those in need,” he said. “This organization is a nonprofit for a reason; it helps other people grow and getting opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

For Morel, whose idea for an organization like this in the 1990s was born when so many of Peekskill’s families were being ravaged by HIV and AIDS, it took a while to bring Arts 10566 to fruition. But now that it’s serving the community, he and others are working to make sure it’s a permanent fixture.

“We want to continue, we’ll continue, but it’s all about creating a platform, a platform where every child, regardless of their social economics, their college and all that, can partake,” Morel said. “And guess what? Arts does that. That’s what (the) arts do.”

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